Creeping Quackademia

Creeping Quackademia

Over at the Science-Based Medicine blog we have written extensively about acupuncture. To sum up: acupuncture is based on a pre-scientific superstition, has no basis in reality and is an elaborate placebo. My opinion is offering acupuncture to patients, as wel as other useless pseudo-medicines, is fraud.

Of course that doesn’t stop major medical institutions from offering acupuncture. For example:

Loyola announces opening of new acupuncture clinic for patients with pelvic health disorders

The usual nonsense is put forth to justify charging patients for fantasy-based therapies:

"These conditions place a significant burden on our health-care system and the economy due to the prevalence and the fact that many patients don’t respond to traditional treatments,” said Larissa Bresler, MD, a medical acupuncture doctor, Loyola University Health System, and an assistant professor of Urology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “The goal of the clinic will be to offer patients another tool to help alleviate their symptoms without the side effects of medication.” 

That is the ‘since air travel and airplanes have problems we should rely on flying carpets’ argument.

 “Acupuncture has been used as a healing tool for more than 2,000 years."

The ever popular appeal to antiquity logical fallacy, and not even a true appeal since the use of needles is a recent development and as practiced at the turn of the century TCPM was gruesome:

Chinese doctors own that they know nothing at all of surgery. They cannot tie an artery, amputate a finger or perform the simplest operation. The only mode of treatment in vogue which might be called surgical is acupuncture, practised for all kinds of ailments. The needles are of nine forms, and are frequently used red-hot, and occasionally left in the body for days. Having no practical knowledge of anatomy, the practitioners often pass needles into large blood vessels and important organs, and immediate death has sometimes resulted. A little child was carried to the dispensary presenting a pitiable spectacle. The doctor had told the parents that there was an excess of fire in its body, to let out which he must use cold needles, so he had pierced the abdomen deeply in several places. The poor little sufferer died shortly afterwards. For cholera the needling is in the arms. For some children’s diseases, especially convulsions, the needles are inserted under the nails. For eye diseases they are often driven into the back between the shoulders to a depth of several inches. Patients have come to us with large surfaces on their backs sloughing by reason of excessive treatment of this kind with instruments none too clean.

They mention the mechanism by which acupuncture is alleged to work:

Acupuncture is based on the traditional Chinese teaching that energy flows through the body along channels called meridians. Illness occurs when energy is blocked or disrupted. The insertion of needles into designated points improves the flow of energy and releases feel-good hormones, beneficial chemicals and immune system cells to reduce inflammation, aid healing and promote pain relief. 

Without mentioning that meridians and the energy it contains are nonsense, divorced from physiology and anatomy and has never been demonstrated to exist.

They will use acupuncture for

...pelvic pain, nausea from pelvic surgery, interstitial cystitis, painful bladder syndrome, postoperative pain, prostatitis and overactive bladder. 

The reviews are typical: maybe it works but the studies are poorly done.

Evidence for the efficacy of needle acupuncture for treating the disorders evaluated remains inconclusive. The intervention showed promising results for reducing pelvic and back pain during pregnancy and climacteric vasomotor symptoms, although well-designed studies are needed to make the results more precise and reliable.


The evidence that acupuncture is effective for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome is encouraging but, because of several caveats, not conclusive. Therefore, more rigorous studies seem warranted.

Which is the same as it ever was. Acupuncture only has effects in studies with poor methodology. The better the study, the worse the effect until well designed studies that remove all potential bias fail to show acupuncture has any effect. 

Which, given the prior plausibly that acupuncture would be effective for anything is zero, is what would be expected.  But always more studies need to be done.

I always wonder why the Board of Trustees of these institutions allow the use of magic in their hospitals.  

But I hope that, since the acupuncturist involved also a urologist, there will finally be an answer to the question that has puzzled me for years: why they are no meridians and acupoints in the male genitals? Why no life energy flowing  in the life generating organs? You can probably guess my answer.

Points of Interest 9/11/2014
Say good-bye to the Pangolin